Recreations of Slaves
The following data is extracted from Kentucky Slave Narratives.
Recreations of slaves:
The following is an old fashion ballad that was sung during the period of slavery and which was very common throughout the Purchase Region: "Jeff Davis rode a big white horse, but Lincoln rode a mule-Jeff Davis was a fine, smart man, and Lincoln was a fool. Jeff Davis had a fine white; Lincoln only had a mule-Jeff Davis was a wonderful man and Lincoln was a fool".
Ring dancing was largely practiced during the slavery period. Especially was this participated in throughout the Purchase Region. This was a rather primative kind of dancing and was performed mostly by negro children. The general procedure was to draw a ring on the ground, ranging from 15 to 30 feet in diameter. The size of the ring to be used was determined by the number of persons who were engaged in the dancing ring. The youngsters would congregate within the ring and dance to the rhythmic hand clapping and rhythm of the tambourine, which was performed by the white people in the community.
Sometimes large congregations witnessed these primitive affairs, and they became a great Saturday evening entertainment for the community at large. During the periods of intermission, the youngsters, who had engaged in the dancing would be given a kind of feast on barbecued meat and cider drinking. At the conclusion of this brief festivity, they would continue in their dancing, and very often this hilarity would be carried on well into the evening.
Another kind of entertainment, which was practiced during the period of slavery, was the singing of negro folk songs and spirituals. The darkies would hold gatherings of this kind at the homes of individuals or members, and engage in singing their favorite songs. These singings were generally held during the evenings, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, and not only afforded a favorite pass time for the darkies; but also for white people. Most always, the singings were attended by a large audience of white people, men, women and children. Those gatherings grew with increasing popularity, until they became one of the most favorite classes of amusement.
Also, the darkies were very fond of sports, such as were common to the period, and many of them were very dexterous in the leading sports of the day. One of the most common of those was hurdle racing. Here, the contestants would leap over hurdles that were placed at regular intervals apart. At time, numerous participants would engage in these races, and the sport would extend over the entire day. There was a kind of jumping too, which was called hurtling. In the sport, the contestants made use of a hurtling pole, which was a small rigid-pole about 12 feet in length. The jumper would take a long running start, which would enable him to take on additional momentum; and with the assistance of the hurtling pole, would leap over a hurdle that was placed a considerable elevation above the ground. The chief object in this kind of jumping was leaping over a high hurdle. The contestant, who made the highest leap, was awarded the highest honors of the contest. A second, third and fourth honors were awarded too.
Another kind of contest was called "A free for all". Here a ring was drawn on the ground which ranged from about 15 ft. to 30 ft. in diameter depending on the number of contestants who engaged in the combat. Each participant was given a kind of bag that was stuffed with cotton and rags into a very compact mass. When so stuffed, the bags would weigh on an average of 10 pounds, and was used by the contestants in striking their antagonist. Each combatant picked whichever opponent he desired and attempted to subdue him by pounding him over the head with the bag, which he used as his weapon of defense. And which was used as an offending weapon. The contest was continued in this manner till every combatant was counted out, and a hero of the contest proclaimed. Some times two contestants were adjudged heroes, and it was necessary to run a contest between the two combatants before a final hero could be proclaimed. Then the two antagonist would stage a battle royal and would continue in the conflict till one was proclaimed victorious.
Sometimes these Free-For-All battles were carried on with a kind of improvised boxing gloves, and the contests were carried on in the same manner as previously described. Very often, as many as 30 darkies of the most husky type were engaged in these battles, and the contests were generally attended by large audiences. Being staged during the period of favorable weather, and mostly on Saturday afternoon; these physical exhibitions were the scenes of much controversial conflict, gambling, excessive inebriation and hilarity.
Banjo and guitar playing were practiced by the many darkies of the slavery period also. These were on the order of concerts; and many darkies although they had no scientific training, became rather accomplished musicians in this respect. Melodious music might be heard at these old fashion contests, as most darkies, who acquired knowledge in the playing of these instruments were familiar with nearly all the melodies and folks songs that were common to the period.
(The foregoing is copied verbatim from conversation with Tinie Force, and Elvira Lewis, LaCenter, Ky. These 2 negro women are very familiar with the slavery period, as they were both slaves, and many of the facts common to that time were witnessed by them.)
Source: Kentucky Slave Narratives